Friday 30 September 2016

I may have left the Church, but I still miss its sacred rituals

Barbara Scully

Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30

"Church was always a place where one met one's neighbours...But on a more general level I just miss the rituals that mark various church holy days during the year" (Pictured - The interior of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul)

I have long since fallen out with the Catholic Church for the same reasons so many Irish people have left the church of their birth. The appalling history of child abuse and the dragging of clerical feet around the issues of retribution for residents of various homes run by the church along with my unequal status as a woman, means I no longer consider myself a 'RC'.

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However, there are things I miss about the Church. I miss the feeling of community - church was always a place where one met one's neighbours. I miss the hymns, especially those associated with particular holidays - 'Hail Glorious St Patrick' and, of course, Christmas Carols. But on a more general level I just miss the rituals that mark various church holy days during the year.

I know that these church days are usually placed on what were the old pagan sacred days; maybe it is my old Celtic soul that aches for something to bridge the spiritual gap where my religion used to be.

Ireland is now a modern and reasonably secular society and it is a far healthier state of affairs than the Ireland of the 20th century. But, in the back of my mind, I wonder if we might have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

Are we in danger of becoming as unbalanced in our secularism as we were when dominated by the Catholic Church? Have we left ourselves in a spiritual vacuum? Are there others who, like me, are feeling a little insecure as a result?

I have recently returned from Bali, where last month they marked Nyepi, a Hindu day of silence to mark the Balinese New Year. This year it fell on March 21. On this day, silence prevails, some people don't talk, there are no cars or scooters on the roads, no-one on the beach, businesses - even the airport - close. Non Hindus participate as a mark of respect to their fellow citizens.

Bali is a place where spirituality permeates everything. Every morning, even in the smartest hotels, there is the placing of offerings on specially-constructed altars.

Offerings - typically flowers, incense and a biscuit or sweet - are also placed on the path and outside shops.

If you make a purchase in a shop or from a market stall you will notice the shop assistant wiping your money along other merchandise, in thanks and hope of further business. And, of course, the greeting from everyone you meet is with prayerful joined hands and a small bow. I found all of this not only charming, but very comforting. I realised that I like to think that there is a greater benevolent power in the universe. I like the idea that the beauty of places like Bali and indeed our own country is not some random accident, but perhaps part of a bigger plan. Prayer reduces significantly the feeling of helplessness in the face of trauma.

In Bali I found myself envious of the way that spirituality and Hindu beliefs suffused every aspect of the people's lives. We used to be a bit like that. We wore our beliefs on the outside. The Irish I learnt at school taught me that hello was 'Dia dhuit' with the response 'Dia is Muire dhuit'. 'Maidin mhaith' didn't exist back then.

I don't know what the answer is to this dilemma I find myself in is. I am not contemplating a return to Catholicism. I am unlikely to convert to Hinduism. But I would like something to replace the hole left where the church used to be.

I talk to my own God regularly. I ask for help all the time. But I want more. I miss ritual. I miss marking sacred times of the year. I miss having something that provides a pause in our days and our weeks; a time to stop and reflect and be grateful. I miss being joined together in a community linked through a belief that there is more to life than... well, just life. Maybe I should join a coven.

As Gaybo says, what if it's all true? What if there is life after life? Well then it's win-win for me. And if it's not true? If this really is it, well so what? It will just go to prove I am a bit of an innocent eejit, nothing more.

Irish Independent

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